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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Cross Country

Q&A: Taipei competition motivates senior runner

After a breakout season in track & field, Jennifer Dunlap hopes to have that same success in cross country. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

Senior runner Jennifer Dunlap spent her August running in the women’s 1500m for USA Team at the World University Games, or Universiade, in Taipei, Taiwan. In track & field, Dunlap runs in the mile, 800m and 1500m and the Distance Medley Relay, but she also competes in cross country for the Cougars during the fall.

She was a key piece in helping the women take third at the at the AAC Indoor Championships as she ran in the DMR that won the bronze medal. Now back in Houston, Dunlap will look to translate her recent success in track & field to the cross country competition.

The Cougar sat down with Dunlap to discuss her trip to Taipei and goals for the cross country season. 

The Cougar: How would you describe the last track season? You appeared to be one of the more consistent runners.

Jennifer Dunlap: I learned a lot last track season. Freshman year and sophomore year, going in, I was kind of more of an underdog, and this past track season coming in with faster personal records, I learned more of the racing experience. So I ran one PR; I wasn’t happy with a lot of my races, but I was really satisfied with the season. The takeaways were great.

The Cougar: What was it like helping the women earn a third place finish at Indoors by winning a bronze medal in the Distance Medley?

Dunlap: That was so much fun. That was probably one of my favorite races yet. Jahnavi (Schneider’s) anchor leg was incredible. But I think just the whole team aspect, we were all training up for that, we all wanted each other to perform well and do well. So going into the race we were so excited. And it was funny cause we joked before we walked past the podium — we were like, ‘Hey let’s make it on the podium today.’ And we did, so that was cool.

The Cougar: Last November when it was announced UH Track & Field would be representing the United States at the World University Games, did you even think you’d be on the roster?

Dunlap: It was funny cause I think we were going to a cross country meet when I saw that, and I asked my coach, ‘Hey Steve, how do I get on there? What can I do to qualify for this?’ So I don’t know. I knew I had a lot of work to do, but I wanted to go. So I had a lot of motivation for the track season to really work hard and make better goals.

The Cougar: And then when you were named to the roster, was that a sort of validation for what you had done that season?

Dunlap: It definitely was. It was crazy, I was really excited about it.

The Cougar: So what was that whole experience like getting to travel to Taiwan and compete at the Municipal Stadium?

Dunlap: It was amazing. It was incredible. Racing a field of international women was crazy. I think that brought a lot of confidence out in me. That coming back here, lining up, now knowing that I’ve raced these great women all over the world I think will help a lot — just with the nerves and everything for the next season.

The Cougar: In regard to the loss of Selena Sierra, the women’s top cross country runner, what is your mindset going into the season?

Dunlap: I’m really excited about the cross country season actually. We knew we were going to have to step it up, losing Selena and Maddie (Brown). They were big scorers on the team. But I think the whole team, like all of us women, have stepped it up. Like as a group we’ve really stepped up our game. So that’s been really cool to see, we want to see each other improve and so as a team we’re really working together to do that. But it’s gonna be good, it’s going to be a lot of fun?

The Cougar: Is there something specific you want to see out of the women this season?

Dunlap: I’m not sure. The team is just kind of like a family, and when we’re out their racing, we’re doing it for each other. When we get tired it’s like I’ve got the whole team that wants to perform well, so you can’t be selfish. I think that we’re just gonna keep bringing that energy and see how well we’ll do at conference.

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